A needle-exchange program aimed at curbing the spread of hepatitis and HIV in Fayette County cleared a major hurdle Tuesday.
The Urban County Council unanimously agreed during a council work session Tuesday to put an ordinance creating the needle-exchange program on its agenda for its July 2 meeting. The council will take a final vote July 7.
Under the preliminary plan, intravenous drug users would be directed to enter the health department through a door at the back of the building to protect privacy. There, clients would meet with health department outreach specialists. Clients would be assigned a number as an identifier and would be able to receive needles anonymously. A name would be needed if there is a request for a blood draw to test for HIV or a sexually transmitted infection.
The clients would be provided syringes, a semi-sealed container for sharp objects and bleach kit, condoms and educational materials. "Patients must return needles to get clean needles," said Dr. Rice Leach, Fayette County's Health Commissioner. The health department has held several public hearings and has gathered input from police and other stakeholders on the needle-exchange program, Leach said.
Some council members questioned during Tuesday's work session why there was only one needle-exchange location — at the health department.
"We are going to start with one location because we have precious little money," Leach said.
A law passed by the state legislature in March allows Kentucky health departments and local governments to create needle-exchange programs as part of an omnibus bill aimed at curbing the state's growing heroin epidemic. Louisville's needle-exchange program started earlier this month.
Rates of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV have climbed dramatically in the past three years as heroin use has skyrocketed in Lexington and across Kentucky.
Leach said if it's granted a final vote in July, the needle-exchange program should begin on Labor Day weekend.